In the realm of skincare, it seems like we spend a ton of time talking about how to get “good skin,” but the idea of “good skin” means so many different things depending on who you’re talking to. We all have different concerns and potential issues that we’re dealing with, and the goals I have for my skin could be the same or completely different than yours. However, I think there are a few connective threads that are (almost) universal to all of us who invest time and effort into our skin, and one of things I hear talked about the most is skin redness, or more accurately how to reduce redness.
This is one goal that I’m almost always down to get behind because while skin redness has an aesthetic component, depending on what type of redness we’re talking about, it can also be a signal that your skin isn’t in the best condition—and we’re all about keeping our skin as healthy as we can. I like to think of the more common causes of redness in the skin as falling into one of two categories: sources of redness that you have a good shot at addressing via skincare and sources that are much more likely to need professional assistance.
While skin redness has an aesthetic component, depending on what type of redness we’re talking about, it can also be a signal that your skin isn’t in the best condition.
In my experience, “you can try tackling this at home” is the category more of us fall into, including myself, so let’s talk about how to address skin redness at home first.
Irritation & Inflammation
Now I know, this is a bit of a general concept, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that irritation and/or inflammation can have a large variety of causes and can happen to varying degrees. It’s pretty clear what’s going on when your face is bright red after spending too much time in the sun, but moderate to lower levels of persistent, ongoing inflammation/irritation is harder to recognize. However, I think this continual redness can contribute to an uneven skin tone more than you’d think. Low level does not mean low impact.
I’ve interacted with a lot of people who think they innately have redness in their skin and that’s just how their face is. But it’s not uncommon for a tinge of redness or patches of red/pink to slowly build up over time, and it’s something that can potentially be diffused for an overall more even complexion. I didn’t realize how much persistent, mild redness I had in my skin until I started actively using products to soothe my skin.
If you think you may fall into the group of people dealing with persistent, low level irritation, I would try pulling back on anything that may be a potential cause of inflammation. Even if something isn’t immediately stinging upon application, an overly fragranced moisturizer, high levels of drying alcohols in multiple products, or a high pH cleanser could be the reason you’re dealing with ongoing redness. As always, gentler is always the key.
I personally had a ton of success by stepping away from very foamy cleansers that left me with that “squeaky clean” feeling. After a lot of trial and error, I found that these types of cleansers not only messed up my skin’s moisture barrier (more on that later) but also was causing some mild inflammation in my T-zone where I spend a lot of time working in my cleanser. The low pH non-foaming cleanser life has been much kinder to me, and removing this consistent source of irritation has made my skin more even overall.
Skin Redness as Hyperpigmentation
I did a bit of deep dive on hyperpigmentation and how you can tackle it, but I feel the need to mention it here again because depending on your skin, hyperpigmentation resulting from breakouts, rashes, or other sources of irritation doesn’t always show up as concentrated brown-ish/purple-ish patches of discoloration on the skin. It can also hang around in concentrated areas of redness or larger patches ranging in tone from red to light pink.
Hyperpigmentation of this variety can actually look very similar to what I discussed above in regards to low level inflammation, but it’s generally the aftermath of some type of irritation or inflammation (like a breakout) rather than due to something that’s ongoing. Of course, there can be situations where you’re having more inflammation or irritation in the same areas you have hyperpigmentation (this was my life for many years), but the hyperpigmentation can make any other types of redness look more severe than they really are.
For more specifics, I’d recommend checking out my article on how I go about dealing with hyperpigmentation (I have a ton of experience lol), but brightening ingredients like niacinamide and licorice root paired with acid exfoliants can help return your skin back to its regular tone with some patience and consistency. Again, just start incorporating new treatments slowly and be gentle about it—you don’t want to get further away from your goals and cause more redness via irritation and inflammation by doing too much too fast.
I feel like we’re hearing more about caring for your moisture barrier/skin barrier, and while it may be an old pillar of skincare in Asia, I’m happy to hear and talk more about maintaining a healthy skin barrier because it’s something that will never go out of style. It’s an essential part of how our skin functions, and keeping it working the way it’s supposed to is never a bad thing for anyone.
When we’re in compromised moisture barrier territory, it’s very likely that you’ll be dealing with some redness that is accompanied by a big uptick in your skin’s level of sensitivity. Products that were always fine might all of a sudden be tingling or stinging upon application, and a general sense of uncomfortable tightness in your skin is also pretty common. I’ve messed up my skin barrier many times in my skincare testing, particularly with acid toners and harsh cleansers—it’s not a fun feeling and something I avoid at all costs nowadays.
When we’ve entered compromised barrier territory, the first thing I do is eject anything out of my routine that could irritate my sensitized skin (i.e., exfoliants, retinoids, etc.) and then focus on trying to repair it the best I can. What your skin can handle when its moisture barrier is compromised may be more or less than mine depending on your skin and how screwed up your barrier is, but niacinamide is a something that has always served my skin well in times like this, especially when paired with calming ingredients like panthenol and reparative ingredients like ceramides that will help build that all important barrier back up.
As always, I hope this has provided a little guidance for some of you out there, but if you feel like you may be dealing with something outside the scope of the more typical causes of redness I discussed here, take a look at the next installment where I go over some more sources of redness that are not as easily, and in some cases even feasible, to take care of at home. Hope you’re all having a great week and I wish you all the best! 🙂